Photo by Jake Michaels
While he is touring all over the world, Mayer Hawthorne was in Paris for a DJ set at Free Your Funk party, Friday 3th june. He took the opportunity to buy some records at the store, we had the opportunity to ask him some questions…
The first track you released at Stones Throw ‘Maybe So’ was a cover of obscure soul 7’’ by The New Holidays! How did you happen to know about this tune?
I was introduced to this song by my good friend Brad Hales who runs Peoples Records in Detroit (one of the best record stores in the world). I loved the funky Popcorn Wylie production and the unorthodox vocals. It’s a rather strange song and I love strange music.
Are you a vinyl digger, collector? Do you still buy records? And have you got a favourite period, aesthetic?
No doubt you’ve seen me diggin’ for vinyl at Superfly! Yes, I still collect vinyl. I think most music sounds best on vinyl (except for some select rap cassette tapes). One of the best parts about touring is that I can check out the record stores all over the world. Currently, I’m obsessed with vintage roots reggae 45s. I like the darker, minor key joints. It’s impossible to be sad when you listen to this type of music.
You live in California. There is now a brand new wave of soul, jazz, hip hop projects from LA, as Kamasi Washington or Kendrick Lamar… You worked with some, maybe more. How are you in touch with them? (musically, spiritually…) What type of link could we identify between all of you?
Yeah I worked with Kendrick Lamar on my last album. Those guys are born and raised in Los Angeles. I LOVE LA, but I’m a transplant, so it’s cool to get the perspective of someone who actually grew up there. There’s something so authentic about what they’re doing. They don’t care what other people think about it, which I really respect.
After ten years, do you think there is a special musical flavor from this part of USA? Is there a sound ? and what could it be?
Of course, California has a distinct sound and feel. The weather is always nice, the weed is good, the women are beautiful. This all has a strong impact on the feel of the music. You have the beach and the ocean which makes for some very smooth music. West Coast gangsta rap which draws heavily from the Midwest funk of George Clinton and Zapp. It all goes into my music and creates something new – an eclectic blend.
And what do you keep in mind, in sound, from Michigan?
By the time I was born, Motown was already relocated to California, so I didn’t really grow up with it. I keep some Slum Village and some Detroit ghetto house with me. My music also has that rawness and honesty that comes from Michigan. For me though, it’s more of the work ethic of Michigan that stayed with me. My parents taught me that you have to work hard for what you want. The winters are easy in California and there’s more opportunities for jobs, etc… so I think that strong work ethic helped me to get ahead there.
Your last releases are more on a “modern soul” side (like ‘Tuxedo’ for example). Is it something you always wanted to do?
I always loved those modern, boogie funk records from the early 80s. I didn’t think anyone else really appreciated it, until I met Jake One (the other half of Tuxedo). I said to myself, “Wow, here’s another person who loves this very niche genre.” It takes a real understanding of that era to do it right. There’s a lot of nuance. It’s so easy to cross the line and end up with something really terrible.
“Man About Town” goes back to the seventies, but in a same time you keep a kind of sound design, more modern. Is it a way to meet (mix) your different facets in one record?
Honestly, I never think of my music in terms of decades or time periods. I just make music that comes to me, and all of my musical influences naturally blend together.
For “Man About Town”, there is a limited edition cassette tapes. A joke? or is there any message behind that?
No joke! I love cassette tapes. I still have all my original rap cassettes. I have some good friends who still have cassette players in their car. It’s actually a big hipster craze in the US right now. Stones Throw Records even had a Cassette Store Day event in Los Angeles and hundreds of people waited in line to buy cassette tapes.
It’s often mentioned that you started as an Hip Hop DJ. Is Hip Hop still a big influence in your music? Any collaboration with Hip Hop artist to come?
Hip-hop is always a huge part of everything I do. I couldn’t escape it even if I wanted to. It will always be a huge part of who I am. It’s in the way I talk, the way I dress, the way I mix my drums… everything.
After some guest musicians and featurings, you return to (almost) solo album. Why this choice: a therapy? A need for introspection?
This is definitely my most personal album. The lyrics deal with my issues of loneliness, so it felt right for me to be alone on the album.
DJ set, at Stones Throw Anniversary